When the plane carrying Pope Francis lands at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport Wednesday evening, Kenya will make history as the first African country to host him.
Pope Francis was elected in March 2013, and in the two years he has been the Vicar of Christ, he has been associated with compassion for the poor, humility and openness.
The College of Cardinals that gathered in Rome for the 2013 conclave after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI elected the then Argentinian cardinal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the 256th Pope.
Until then, Cardinal Bergoglio had served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Cardinal Bergoglio immediately chose the name Pope Francis I upon ascending to the papacy, a name reminiscent of St Francis of Assisi, a man of deep compassion himself.
Who is Pope Francis?
And as this man comes to Kenya in his capacity as the Vicar of Christ, the question that is on many minds is: Who is Pope Francis?
Described as both humble and pastoral, Pope Francis has been known to be unwavering in all his teachings and approach to issues.
His method has been described as “simplicity with a purpose: to clear away everything else so that the Church can proclaim Jesus Christ to the world”.
Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on December 17, 1936 to Mario Bergoglio, a railway worker and Regina Sivori, a housewife.
They lived in Flores, a neighbourhood of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.
He studied at the University of Buenos Aires where he graduated with a degree in chemistry, and later studied philosophy at the Collegio Maximo de San Jose Centro Loyola, before pursuing a doctorate in theology in Germany.
Ordained into priesthood
He was ordained into the priesthood on December 13, 1969 and took his vows on April 22, 1973.
Between that year and 1979, he served as the Jesuit provincial superior of Argentina.
In 1980, he was appointed rector of the major seminary in San Miguel, where he served until May 20, 1992, when Pope John Paul II appointed him as the auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires.
He was consecrated as a bishop on June 27, 1992, and on June 3, 1997, he was named coadjutor (automatic successor) for the archbishop of Buenos Aires. He acceded to the seat on February 28, 1998, after the death of Cardinal Quarracino.
On February 21, 2001, he became a cardinal.
Bishop of Rome
At the Vatican, where he now resides as the Bishop of Rome and leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, the Pope has caused ripples and contradictions in his Papacy.
To begin with, he turned down residency at the papal palace and assumed a lowly community life.
In his humility, he has often broken protocol to reach out to children, the poor and the lowly.
While on a trip to the US in September, Pope Francis skipped lunch with Washington DC’s most famous and influential, preferring instead to share a meal with the poor and homeless.
Pope Francis speaks to people of all faiths and beliefs.
While in Kenya, he will meet with leaders of other faiths for talks on peace and reconciliation. He is a kind, compassionate individual who is trying to get the big countries to take better care of the planet and of each other.
In this regard, he will head to the United Nations offices in Gigiri to address the delegates of the United Nations Environment Programme, on protecting the environment.
Despite his mien, Pope Francis can be tough. He has no tolerance for bishops covering up for priests who abuse children.
He has demonstrated that he will not hesitate to take action against church officials and leaders who misuse their offices to benefit themselves.
One of his very first acts as Pope was to fire a flamboyant German Bishop who had built a multi-million dollar mansion for himself using church funds.
Recently, he let go an American bishop who was convicted of not reporting a priest to authorities after finding child pornography on his computer.
Pope Francis has been described by many as the progressive champion that the church needs.
As a priest working in the slums of Buenos Aires, he was known for attending and tending to the poor slum dwellers in the favellas (slums).
He was known for his simple lifestyle, and even as the bishop of the city, he was known to ride in public buses.
As bishop and later cardinal, he spurned the trappings of powers, money and opulence that come with the offices.
He is known for his commitment to social justice and respect for everyone.
Upon his election as Pope, he called a newspaper vendor in Buenos Aires, who used to give him his daily supply, to say thank you, before he moved to Rome.
Upon his installation, Pope Francis — the first Pope from the Third world — became widely popular.
He abandoned the ideological rigidity and conservatism of his predecessors.
He has welcomed gays and others of different sexual orientations into the church and famously asked: “Who am I to judge?”
He has lessened the burden on divorce and separation and stated that there is need to make the procedure of nullity more accessible and less time-consuming as much as possible and at almost no expense.
Francis Peter Muroki is an MA student in communication at Daystar University, Nairobi, and has worked with the Catholic Church for many years.
SOURCE: AFRICA REVIEW